Too young at 14 to choose GCSEs

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Children should not be required to pick their GCSE options at 14 because their brains have not yet fully developed, according to a leading neuroscientist, reports the Telegraph.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor in cognitive neuroscience at University College London, said making important choices about qualifications half-way through secondary education placed a lot of responsibility on teenagers who had yet to reach maturity.

Under the current system, teenagers are required to choose which subjects they want to take at GCSE at some point during Year 9, when pupils are aged 13 or 14.

As a result, choosing the wrong GCSE choices can act as a barrier to pupils’ progression in later life and in selecting courses at A-level and university.

Prof Blakemore suggested that schools should shift towards a baccalaureate-style system where pupils continue studying a range of subjects such as sciences, languages and humanities up to the age of 18 to keep their options open.

She said: "We shouldn't be forcing children to make choices at age 14. They kind of look like adults in a lot of cases and you put adult expectations on them. But actually, if you look in their brains, their brains are not yet like an adult brain, they have got a long way to go."

According to Prof Blakemore, the pre-frontal cortex - which is involved in abilities such as decision making, planning, impulse control, empathy and self-awareness - continues developing throughout the first three decades of life and there is great capacity for change during this time.

She went on to say:  "We shouldn't force 14 year-olds to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. In this country, there's a kind of one-size-fits-all approach, so it's very difficult to change your choices once you've made them.

School Leadership Today
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